Quebec police have slapped a spate of charges against 45 "high level" members of the North American underworld as part of a two-year investigation involving drug trafficking, money laundering, and murder.
Police say the Italian mafia, the Hells Angels biker gang, and a coalition of street gangs were all working in unity to run territory throughout the East Coast.
"Those arrested were high-level players," Gaétan Courchesne, from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, told reporters Thursday morning.
The alleged alliance between the three criminal organizations came about after sweeping arrests through the 1990s and 2000s.
A brutal gang war resulted in and around Montreal, as challengers to the throne of mafia boss Vito Rizzuto — who was arrested in 2004 and died in hospital in 2013 — fought to take over his expansive crime family, which at one time controlled activities throughout New York and Sicily. Rizzuto's father and son were both shot to death during the violence, as were a smattering of Rizzuto's associates and enemies.
On Thursday police arrested Leonardo Rizzuto, son of Vito, as well as Stefano Sollecito, the man believed to have taken over from Rizzuto. They also picked up Loris Cavaliere, lawyer to the Rizzuto family, whose law office in Montreal's Little Italy had once been fire bombed.
The biker and street gangs, which were also said to have been responsible for racking up their own considerable body count over the past several years, were tasked with much of the drug-running and low-level enforcement for the Italians, according to the police.
"They made an alliance to keep control of their territory, and to help distribute narcotics," said Patrick Bélanger, Chief Inspector of the Sûreté du Québec.
But Thursday's announcement also exposed divisions in the alliance. Several of the early-morning arrests involved a murder plot that targeted Raynald Desjardins, Vito Rizzuto's former right-hand man who supposedly made his own plan to take over the syndicate. Police say that the Hells Angels, at the direction of their jailed leader Maurice Boucher, had put out a hit on Desjardins in order to "maintain their territory" for their drug trafficking according to one SQ investigator.
Boucher, commonly known as "Mom," was the feared head of the Hells — supposedly booted from the group in 2014 — who is serving consecutive life sentences for his role in ordering the murder of two Quebec prison guards. Police arrested Boucher, inside his jail cell, and his daughter in connection with the plot against Desjardins. Police say that Boucher served as an "intermediary" and helped plan the murder during meets that took place at his maximum-security prison.
Police also arrested Gregory Wooley, a full-patch Hells member and reputed head of the North Montreal street gangs — divided between the "Reds" and the "Blues," often styled after the "Bloods" and "Crips" — that have often scrapped. Wooley was said to have united the two sides, and was reportedly responsible for the broad daylight execution of two gang leaders who balked at the gang unity, or who were operating outside the authority of the Hells.
"Evidently, you'd understand that an operation like today's will create a large hole, an emptiness, in the criminal environment," said Belanger.
While Thursday's arrests have already been heralded as the "decapitation" of Quebec's once-powerful criminal organization, Quebec has had a murky record on these sorts of grandiose operations.
SharQC, a large-scale investigation into the Hells Angels, netted 156 arrests and more than 100 guilty pleas on murder conspiracy charges. The first high-profile murder trial, however, was abruptly ended in October after a Quebec judge threw out the Crown's case for mishandling evidence.
Even so, police efforts to root out corruption and organized crime in Quebec have produced results in recent years. Investigations have brought down three different Montreal-area mayors, and have run mob-linked construction and contracting companies out of business.
The investigations that wrapped up this week — dubbed Project MAGOT, for the drug trafficking investigation; and Project MASTIFF, for the investigation into money laundering — have seized over $1 million so far in proceeds of crime. They've also grabbed guns, seven kilograms of cocaine, and a Harley Davidson motorcycle.
Quebec police say the investigation is ongoing, as they still have search warrants to execute throughout the province. Several suspects are currently at large in Mexico, they added.
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